Is Google trustworthy?

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Google logo (Image credit: Android Central)

Google has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. That's partly because technology itself has changed, partly because of management changes within the company, and partly because being more aggressive is how you make more money when you're an advertisement company. The days of "Don't Be Evil" seem to be long gone.

I say it started 10 years ago because that's when we heard about the most intrusive thing Google had ever done up to that point — collect data from user Wi-Fi networks using its Street View cars back in 2010. The issue was a bit overblown because they always are, but Google did end up collecting unencrypted data sent using open Wi-Fi networks while it was collecting the data it needed to make a map without using GPS. Then it tried to shrug it off, and that felt pretty evil to a lot of people.

Doing something stupid might not be evil. Trying to say it's OK and partially our fault makes it so.

Google did finally own up to the issue and admit that even though it was switching Wi-Fi channels five times per second, with Wi-Fi being as fast as it is (even back then) more data that necessary got collected. Google is the tech expert and it should have known better; if it had there would be no need for an apology and court hearings afterward.

There have been plenty of other times where Google skirted the edge of evil. Sometimes with good reason and poor explanation, others because it was profitable. Cooperating with the Chinese government to build a censored version of Google services — evil. Helping the U.S. government build and test robotic killing machines — evil. And of course, countless things we never found out about, too.

Project Loon

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

There are some times where Google is absolutely not evil, and those don't get the exposure they deserve. Google spends millions on cancer research. Google gives millions in grants to universities so all kinds of fields can be further studied. Google even tried to fly low-orbit balloons to supply internet to places like sub-Saharan Africa or places affected by natural disasters. Sure, these things aren't entirely altruistic and if Google found a cure for cancer, it would make a tidy profit.

Google does a lot of good things that also make a lot of money for the company.

But I think what most people care about when it comes to trusting Google is with our own personal and private data. And that's one of the places where you can trust Google to not be evil. Not because it cares about you — Google is not your friend — but because it helps make more money and get more users for its services.

Every tech company collects data about you when you use its products. Companies that claim otherwise are not telling the truth, and a look at the terms of service will show that all of them — including Apple — collect as much as they can and everything it thinks is useful. Where Google and Facebook differ from Microsoft and Apple is that both want to sell ad space based on your personal preferences.

That means Google collects a lot of data. Everything you do with a Google product, unless explicitly marked as hands-off like data from children under 13, data about your sexual orientation or your health, and a handful of other bits and pieces, goes back to the mothership.

Some of our data is completely hands-off.

So far Google hasn't done anything wrong with all of this information. Google knows what brand of beard trimmer I use, what size tires are on my car, how much my monthly utility bills are and more because I use Chrome to pay for it all. And Google shows me ads about men's facial grooming products, custom wheels and tires, and companies who want to install solar panels so I can save money on my electric bill.

More: Does Google sell my personal information?

Google does not know who that 2-year-old kid in about a gazillion of my photos is (I ♥️ my granddaughter like every other grandpa does) or much about my health conditions. It probably knows that I shop online for spare wheelchair parts but has never done anything with that information. It promises that it never will, and so far so good.

In the abstract and bigger picture, Google is an evil global mega-corporation just like any other evil global mega-corporation. Knowing that it worked for and with DARPA or tried to cater to the Chinese government comes as no surprise. But on a personal level where our day to day interactions with the company come into play, Google is still honoring its end of the bargain we made when we signed up.

It's possible for a company to be trustworthy in some ways and evil in others. This is one of those times.

So back to the question — is Google trustworthy? For most of us and the way we interact with the company, yes. It collects an uncomfortable amount of data about us but so far has never done anything bad with it. It told us up front how it was going to collect it all and what it uses it for, and that's exactly what it does.

On a more macro-level, Google is evil. But no more evil that Amazon or Microsoft or Apple. The real issue is that it gets away with being evil because we love its products; also just like Amazon or Microsoft or Apple. Every tech company needs to be held to the fire like Facebook has been and forced to face any wrongdoings.

I don't mean by government officials who have no idea how anything works, but by tech-savvy users like you and me. Why do we accept blunders and try to whitewash google's misdeeds? That's the real question, and I can't answer that one.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.